New Video Game, Freshman Year, Allows Players to Experience How Sexual Harassment Feels

freshman year

Some games you play just for fun. Others allow you to gain a new perspective. In Freshman Year, a short, free, online game programmed by Nina Freeman with art by Laura Knetzger, you are “Nina,” a freshman in college meeting up with some friends for drinks when things take an unexpected and upsetting turn.

Freshman Year takes about 10 minutes to play and basically consists of you clicking choices. The thing is, no matter what you choose – no matter what you wear, how many drinks you have, or whether or not you dance – the end result is the same. You end up being harassed by a bar’s bouncer. It’s a simple game that is nonetheless effective about getting right to the point, making the player feel off-kilter and unsure the entire time.

According to this profile in Mother Jones, Freeman talks about using video game programming as a way to process memories and feelings she’s struggling with:

Freeman—whose other games include Ladylike, which focuses on a 12-year-old girl with a hypercritical mother, and Cibele, which is about her experience of having sex for the first time—says she designs games for the same reason some people keep a diary. “I usually want to make games about memories that I have complex feelings about, that I don’t really understand and need to sit down with,” she says.

Freeman also understands that not everyone experiences things like harassment and abuse the same way, and wants to make it very clear that while she hopes others will get something out of her game, that it’s ultimately very personal:

“It’s obviously a game about sexual harassment, but I don’t want it to be a universal game about sexual harassment in general,” she says. “I always want to emphasize to people that this is just my experience.”

Having written and studied poetry, confessional writers like Elizabeth Bishop and Frank O’Hara inspired Freeman’s choice to make “games that help players try and get close to someone else’s lived experience.”

You can check out Freeman’s game, Ladylike, right now. Cibele will be available later this year.

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